Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Communication Conundrums

I recently completed Diploma in NLP. Neuro-Lingustic Programming is all about language and communication and the brain, how could I resist? The opportunity to study was presented as a development opportunity related to my Real-World-Job, and progression from a Leadership course I studied a couple of years ago. Basically NLP is about learning how to build rapport with people which is helpful when working with LOTS of different people. It is also VERY useful when writing stories - another fabulous thing about being a writer, as I am sure you will agree, is that almost anything we do in the world outside of writing feeds our writerly life (and not just the using of dull meetings as an opportunity to character sketch and establish victims of torture for your next story ... Oh I KNOW how you people work!).

NLP theory is contested by some and thoroughly embraced by others, I have really enjoyed my study and I've found it useful. As well as teaching us strategies for working more effectively with people, we have also explored a lot of different ways of understanding how different individuals see the world and themselves in it. It's fascinating stuff. When I was younger I thought it was just me that was a bit *odd*, as I've grown older and more confident I've decided it's not me it's everybody else! After studying NLP I realise it's all of us. The mantra used by our Instructor and key strand in NLP is 'We're all making it up, so we might as well make it up good.' This, of course feeds into the idea of there being no fixed points, especially in communication, everything we understand we do so because of our own perspective. 

The NLP model of communication states that all information we take in from the world passes through our personal 'filters' and is either Deleted (because it doesn't fit with what we *know* or want to know about the world), Distorted (because we take the bit of it we're interested in, the bit that's relevant for us and make it fit with what we *know*), or Generalised (because we like it and want to *know* it more). These 'filters' are essential to us. There is quite simply far too much information coming at us (at all our senses) for our brains to manage, thus our brain filters the input according to what's familiar and comfortable and matches our personal map of the world, and ignores the rest. Our personal map is made up of all our experiences and learning in the past. The map may change slightly with some of the new information coming in but in order for it to do so we have to be open to it. It's why people learn best when they've got a reason to learn. Students (of any age) learn better when they *buy into* why they're learning what they're learning. My most successful lessons on punctuation with any age group have always been based on having them write something for someone first and then re-craft the punctuation to enhance the message they are trying to get across to their reader. 

This NLP model helps us to understand why some people find the prospect of change so difficult. Some people are more comfortable with 'evolution' than 'revolution' - it means if we're introducing a new way of doing something, a new process, to our teams we probably need to stress how it's the SAME as what we already do, for some people to be open to it; and how it's completely DIFFERENT from what we already do, to get the other people to buy into it. 

I didn't say it was easy ... I just said it was interesting!

There are LOTS of these filters but what the course taught us was strategies for listening carefully to what people say, and how they say it, so we can quickly work out how they're making sense of the world (essential snooping ... research skills for any writer) and adapt our own language and behaviour to make them more comfortable with us. 

As ever with these things, the first (and not always comfortable) step is being honest about how we see the world personally and being open to change ourselves. NLP actually offers some really useful personal development tools - should you wish to try them. I already have some very effective tools for that - cake/wine/coffee but it has given me more strategies for thinking about my writing and my possible readers.

I struggle (as regular visitors will be all too aware) with conflict in my writing and tend to fix things before they become an issue (which is how tend to operate in the Real-World) but if I have two characters; a husband, who loves DIFFERENT and a wife that loves SAME - reader I have a conflict! 

It also works for thinking about how readers might respond - some readers will sympathise with one character, some with the other, depending on where they're most comfortable on that spectrum. 

The thing that has struck me most from studying NLP? I am amazed any of us manage to ever make sense of each other given the range  and complexity of the filters at work. It's also made me more cautious. You know when you get feedback on your writing, about that REALLY OBVIOUS BIT, that someone claims doesn't work? It might not for them ... you just need to work out if the person giving this feedback is in the minority or majority of your ideal readership ;@

Happy writing.